On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the winners of VinePair’s 2022 Next Wave Awards. To celebrate their innovations, on this Friday’s tasting, your hosts are drinking Hirsch Vineyards 2019 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir, Lunar Hard Seltzer, and Fortaleza Tequila Blanco.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the Friday “VinePair Podcast.” And if you’re listening to this on Friday, hopefully Joanna and I are in bed because we should be very tired from last night’s party for the Next Wave Awards.
A: Especially if you listen to this first thing in the morning. Which is good on you,.I hope this is your first listen every Monday and Friday. I hope the “VinePair Podcast” is.
J: So many people email us in the morning. It’s so nice.
A: Yeah. Thank you for making it your first listen. It’s really awesome.
Z: A cup of coffee, “VinePair Podcast.” What more do you need to get your day started?
A: Yeah, exactly. So we did have the next Wave Awards party last night and we released our second annual Next Wave Awards. It is a very large initiative here at VinePair that we started last year that we are very excited to finally have truly off the ground. And Joanna, I thought we could take this episode to chat about the Next Wave Awards with you and Zach. Can you kind of remind the listeners what the Next Wave Awards are?
J: Yeah, sure. It’s our annual initiative to recognize people across the wine, beer, and spirits industries who we feel are really pushing things forward. They’ve done amazing stuff so far. They’re making their respective industries better for everyone else, and they are setting an example. Beyond that, the Next Wave Awards are really meant to be a celebration of their creativity, and innovation as well. So just people who are making their respective industries a really good and better place, and a more meaningful place, and more creative place.
A: We thought we’d take this episode to talk through some of those people. The one that I want to start off with is where we had the party last night, which is our bar of the year.
A: Which is a bar we’ve been hot on for a while, but it is Double Chicken Please.
J: Yes. Tell people about Double Chicken Please, Adam.
A: Double Chicken Please is the most experimental bar right now in the United States. They are doing really, really creative cocktails. Basically the idea at Double Chicken Please is you are eating what you’re drinking, and it is a very unique concept. I think if you have been listening to the podcast for a long time, especially in the beginning of Covid, we had GN, who is one of the owners of Double Chicken Please — he and Faye own it together — on the podcast to talk about Double Chicken Please when it first opened. He referred to the concept as sort of himself as almost a creative director, and that Double Chicken Please is not in fact a bar, but a creative concept that can be lots of different things, which I thought was really cool. He and Faye both have design backgrounds and went to university for design, and so now are coming to the bar world through that. They both worked at some of the best bars in the world before opening Double Chicken Please. I think it’s this really cool place because first of all I will say the space they’re in used to be cursed.
A: There were lots of things that tried to open in that space in the Lower East Side because it’s a very weird bar. There’s almost two bars in one. There’s a front room and then a back room. It’s a huge space. Everyone before them tried to just do one big bar or one big restaurant, even though they’re clearly two different spaces. They’ve done a really great job of taking advantage of that. The front bar is all cocktails on draft. They have a whole long wall. It’s almost like you think you’ve walked into a beer bar with all the taps, but there’s all these original cocktails they’ve created; a lot of classics as well.
J: The taptails.
A: Yes. Which is super cool, and that’s where you can get the chicken sandwiches. And then if you go to the back with a reservation, you get these incredible cocktails that taste like food. So one of the cocktails is cold pizza, another cocktail is cold sesame noodles. They have a Waldorf salad. Just really, really unique inventive drinks that are unlike anything else out there. I’ve never come across a cocktail program like this in the U.S. I think it’s why we’ve been so passionate about them and they’re also gaining recognition from other outlets.
A: But yeah, this one felt extremely well deserved. The next time you are in New York you have to drink here.
J: Yeah, I think it feels so exciting because we’re also really interested to see how they continue to evolve the concept over the years. Because they opened in 2020. Like Adam said, they’ve been getting recognition. We’re so happy to have recognized them this year. But I think they’re such creative people so it’ll be really exciting to see what they do next.
Z: I want to ask you guys one question about this because I have not had the opportunity to go there yet. I remember when I got the audio for that interview you did, Adam, with GN, listening to it and editing it and just sort thinking to myself, “Okay, this sounds like a really interesting concept, but is it going to be one of those bars that people go to once and they’re like, ‘That was cool. I don’t ever have to go there again.'” And it sounds like, in fact, it’s a place that people could return to over and over again. Which I think when you’re talking about something that, let’s say, from the outside could border on seeming like gimmickry-
J: A gimmick, yeah, yeah.
Z: It’s really a testament to what they must be doing. How is it that you think they’re able to do this thing that on the face of it is maybe a little like, “Really? Your cocktail tastes like cold pizza or a Waldorf salad?” And yet, presumably, you and other people are excited to go back there and drink these things over and over again. It’s not just a one off, “Yeah, I said I did it.”
J: I think it’s because they’re not gross.
A: Yeah, they’re really good.
J: They’re just good drinks.
J: But I feel like with gimmicks like that it could be like, “Oh, this is such a fun idea, it’s clever,” And then maybe in the execution it’s lacking. But I think ultimately they’re just really good at making drinks and that’s kind of what keeps people coming back.
A: I think it’s this idea of it’s just so much fun. The drinks are so creative that they make you smile, and so it’s a really good time. It’s not like the drinks also, even though they’re incredibly creative, aren’t double the price. I mean, it’s crazy. They’re doing the most inventive drinks and they don’t have a $30 Dirty Martini with a vodka bump. I mean, sorry, with a caviar bump.
J: Caviar bump, yeah.
A: You know what I mean? They’re just doing really cool stuff. I think it’s also accessible in that way. You know, you get a reservation, you go, and you’re getting to have these drinks you really can’t have anywhere else. You’re not just having someone else’s version of a Manhattan or whatever. And so I think that is what makes it fun. It’s a fun place to take people, it’s someplace to return to. You also can’t drink the whole menu in one night. So I think you have one, you’re like, “Holy crap, this is awesome.” And then you’re like, “Okay, I have to go back and try another one or another two.” Also because in the main room where they do the inventive cocktails, they don’t do the chicken till late. So if you really want the chicken sandwich, you have to get there late. Or, you got to drink-
J: Stick around.
A: -up front with the taptails. So I think that that’s also kind of a thing where people come, maybe you go one night before dinner somewhere else, or you go one night after dinner, that kind of thing. So it’s a cool spot. They’ve done a really good job.
J: You can have different experiences there as well.
A: Yeah, they’ve done a really good job. So in addition to lovely Double Chicken Please, there’s also lots of other people that we’ve awarded. One of the people I want to talk about is someone that we’ve been a supporter of for awhile, and that is Tahirrah Habibi who has been on the podcast before.
J: She’s our Advocate of the Year.
A: Yes. She is the founder of the Hue Society, and also the Wine and Culture Fest. And I think just someone that is really doing the work to make the wine world more equitable, and she deserves all the credit for that. I think obviously there’s lots of people who owe a lot to her for their own careers and for her championing them, and it felt like it was appropriate to champion her. I think she’s one of these ones who got recognition very early on when she was starting the Hue Society, and we don’t want people to forget about her. We don’t want people to think, “Oh, well, she’s achieved what she can, now she’s going to keep doing it.” I think someone who’s working as hard as she is deserves to continue to be recognized, and so that’s why we felt really passionate about recognizing her and naming her Advocate of the Year.
J: Yeah, mostly because she’s continuing to grow the Hue Society, she’s launching different initiatives, she’s trying to take it global. That’s really important, and it’s important to recognize it wasn’t just a matter of starting the society and giving that recognition, but it’s continuing to evolve because there’s still a lot of work to be done. And I think that’s a conversation we always want to keep having.
A: Yeah, totally. Who else, Joanna?
J: Someone I wanted to bring up in this conversation is our brewer of the year, which maybe feels a little less conventional because she’s kind of a new brewer. Her name is Zahra Tabatabai, and she’s launched a brewery called Back Home Beer. It doesn’t have a brick and mortar; you can’t visit a tap room or the brewery itself. That’s something she’s hoping to have in the years to come. Right now she’s brewing on her own and she’s hand distributing her beers across New York City on her own, and she’s hoping to grow. But she’s doing a lot of really wonderful experimental stuff. The reason why we’re recognizing her is because Zahra is Iranian and she comes from a long line of brewers. Her grandfather home brewed beer back in Iran, and she wanted to continue that tradition. And not just to continue the tradition because it was something she was interested in doing, but to bring attention and a conversation to the influence that Iran and the Middle East has had on brewing and its history. I think that’s something we definitely don’t hear about at all in beer. She’s using the unique flavors that she grew up with in her beer. So there’s Persian salt and sumac and barberries and other things like that that she’s using to make really unique beers that people love and that are very delicious. She’s someone I wanted to bring up too, because I’m sure a lot of people haven’t heard of her and Back Home Beer.
Z: And it’s interesting, too, because as you said, Joanna, that whole part of the world, despite having really, really long, not just brewing traditions, but winemaking traditions, distilling traditions, we so rarely think about, at least here in the U.S., not just that region but the sort of influence and perhaps the use of some of that flavor palate in things like beer. Another one that I hope to get a chance to try one of these days. That would be cool.
A: One of the people that I wanted to name check here is someone who we have now all been to his place, and it is a place that I think is a very special bar. He is our Wine Professional of the Year, and that is Matt Tunstall who owns Charleston Stems & Skins and Three Sirens.
J: Three Sirens, yeah.
A: Stems & Skins, I would say, is probably the best wine bar in the country. I’m just going to say it. I think it’s just…
Z: At a minimum there aren’t better ones.
A: No. It is what a wine bar should be. It is a neighborhood spot. It is not trying to be also a restaurant, you know what I mean? It’s a wine bar. The wine list is really awesome. Matt is very passionate. He is the nicest guy, there is zero pretension. He is not trying to be a celebrity somm, even though he has a background in working at some of the best restaurants in the country, both in San Francisco and then in Charleston. This guy is just a salt-of-the-earth, incredible person. This is the kind of person that I think we need more of in wine because it’s someone like Matt who gets people excited about wine.
A: He doesn’t talk to you like you should know things. He talks to you like you don’t know things, and it’s easy to ask him any question you want. He has a love for Chenin Blanc, and he makes that very clear in his list, but he can explain to you why. He explains it in the list why. He doesn’t just say, “Oh, if you really love wine you have to love Chenin.” He doesn’t have that attitude about him. I think that that’s really important and something that we need to have more of when it comes to wine professionals is people who just like wine and they want everyone to like it, too. He’s someone that just felt like a no-brainer to us. But both of you have been there before as well, so I’m curious, Zach, especially because we’re talking a lot on this episode, what did you think of when you… Because it felt very unique to me in New York. I felt like we don’t really have anything like Stems & Skins. But I was curious, did you feel the same way about it coming from Seattle?
Z: Yeah, I think the two things that stood out to me, in addition to just the quality of wines on the list and the vibe and all that were, I wouldn’t even say necessarily it’s just Matt’s approachability, but his enthusiasm in a way that felt very genuine, and also as you said, felt inviting and not exclusionary. I think there are sometimes people who are very enthusiastic about wine who are wine professionals, but in their enthusiasm don’t understand how to bring people along with them. They start talking to you about minutiae, esoteric wines, tiny production stuff. They use a lot of terminology that people just who aren’t deeply in wine just kind of glaze over at. And it’s not that those people aren’t enthusiastic. I believe that they very much are, but they can’t translate their enthusiasm into enthusiasm in their guests, and I think Matt is excellent at that. I think the other piece of it is, and you sort of alluded to this, but I think it was striking to me, is that he doesn’t seem to have the same, I don’t know if you would call it ambition, ego, or whatever. Here’s actually a better way to put it: It didn’t feel to me like Matt had anything to prove in Stems & Skins or in his interactions with us or just in general. To be completely honest as a wine professional myself, that is a place I have been trying to get to for years, is to feel confident in my own knowledge, in my own palate, in my own abilities, and in my own experience, I guess, in a way that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone who walks in if I’m working. Whether it’s a guest who knows nothing, a guest who wants to test me, or a master sommelier, or whomever. I would be comfortable saying what I do and don’t know, comfortable talking about the wines I’ve chosen and why. That is the other thing that really kind of radiated out of Matt when we were in there. I think even if maybe not every diner, not every guest would articulate it that way or would pick up on it, I think that is something that — at a subconscious level at least — people know when a wine professional is trying to show off to them, or talking down to them, or doing all the things that unfortunately are maybe not inaccurate but negative stereotypes of wine professionals. Matt just has none of that to him, and it’s really encouraging. And I don’t mean to say that, I don’t know, maybe someone could have that same attitude in New York City. But New York City’s a little more of a “show-me-what-you-got” kind of place.
J: Yeah, and in talking to Matt for the piece that Tim wrote, education and wine education is so important to him and it’s such a big part of what Stems & Skins is meant to be, and there’s no pretension there. He’s excited about wine and he’s really joyful about wine, and he wants people to have that experience when they come in as well. I think he’s just excited about teaching without pretension, without making people feel bad.
A: Yeah, I agree. So another place that we should talk about, because this one’s a weird one, because people are going to be like, “Wait, how?”
A: Our Brewery of the Year.
A: Our Brewery of the Year is Athletic. I think people are going to be like, “Wait, a non-alcoholic brewery is the Brewery of the Year?” But when we were chatting about it as an entire team and they were one of the places that had been nominated, it just makes sense. They are one of the only breweries that is really, really growing and continuing to grow. They’ve defined and reinvigorated the non-alcoholic beer category. They’re one of the only breweries to truly do flavor beer, like IPA, non-alcoholic IPA, well. Actually people will say they don’t taste the difference between their beers and the alcoholic versions. We’ve also been writing about them for a very long time. So this one felt like the exact brand we would talk about right now. It’s kind of incredible how much they’ve grown
J: Yeah, they’ve been a really remarkable brand to watch. And I feel like against all odds to watch them continue to flourish and grow, and to see the sales data behind it, and the projections, and the money they’ve raised, too.
A: It’s truly unbelievable.
A: It’s truly unbelievable.
Z: Yeah. Well, and I think maybe I will at least eat a little bit of crow on this. I didn’t believe. I think having tried the Athletic beers over the last couple years, I have always thought they were good. They were well-executed beers that I could see mistaking for alcoholic beers.
J: Plausible dupes.
A: Yeah, plausible dupes.
Z: But yet, I just was sort of like, “I don’t think there’s a big market for this.” And I was wrong, flat-out wrong. So that’s cool. Bill Shufelt, the CEO and founder, you can @ me on Twitter if you want. I was wrong. That’s fine. I was not the only one, I’m pretty sure. But it’s been really cool. I think one thing that they’ve done really well, I think in addition to everything else that we’ve talked about, is they have sort of managed to do the thing that I think great craft breweries do, but so many struggle with, which is maintain interest in their core offerings while also doing one-offs or at least seasonal runs. And I think we’ve talked about on the podcast in other contexts, sometimes the challenge for craft breweries in particular, but even other parts of the beverage alcohol industry where you’re kind of relying on one-offs and almost novelty items to keep sales strong, but your core brands are languishing. And my understanding is the core brands for Athletic are very, very strong, and they’re bringing out interesting, popular seasonal beers, and then cycling through them and moving on. That is, I think, a really difficult thing for any brewery to do, especially at the scale that they are doing it.
A: Yeah. So I think for the rest of this list, head to VinePair.com.
A: Check it out, see who our Bartender of the Year is, see who our Somm of the Year is, our Retailer of the Year, Nonprofit of the Year. There’s a lot of really amazing people on this list. Food and Beverage Program of the Year. Too many to talk through here, but we do want to talk through three others because we’re going to taste them. These are three other liquid winners. Zach, since you’re in Seattle-
Z: I am.
A: Do you want to give us the first one? I don’t know. You’re just not here.
Z: That’s true.
A: I don’t know. I want to say that Zach should just go first.
Z: That’s fine.
A: So Zach, what winner do you have in front of you?
Z: I have wine from our Winery of the Year, Hirsch Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.
A: So good.
Z: Yeah, and it was cool. I wrote the piece about Hirsch for the package, so I will say some of what I said there and maybe not step too much on my own writing, but it’s really kind of a cool project. I think this is a great example of what I think Next Wave is so good at doing, which is both recognizing, in this case, a producer who’s been around for quite a long time. I mean Hirsch Vineyards has been there since the ’80s and was some of the early pioneers on the Sonoma Coast, the true Sonoma Coast, really in view of the ocean, and yet remain not just high quality, but really, really instrumental to the industry, both in the Sonoma Coast and Sonoma broadly, but also kind of nationally. The wines are excellent. I’m drinking the 2019 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir. It’s beautiful. I love these wines because they’re so true to their sense of place, which is a thing that we love in wine generally. They’re such a cool wine. When I started discovering Sonoma Coast’s Pinot Noir a little while ago, one of the things I loved about it was the hero wines that can’t kind of use the crutch that so many producers and so many regions use. They can’t even with a straight face claim to be Burgundian because the climate is so completely different from Burgundy. I mean, they’re right on the ocean. Burgundy is very far from the ocean. And yet, they produce these really, really exceptional sort of layered, complex, elegant Pinot Noirs that are distinctly their own thing. And yet, they’re Pinot Noir, and that’s fantastic. Jasmine Hirsch kind of does everything now at the vineyard, from the farming, to the winemaking, to selling the wines. She’s not quite a one-person show, but she’s close. It is awesome as well. Yeah, I think all of us were very enthusiastic about recognizing and commemorating Hirsch.
A: Yeah, I mean these wines have always done really, really well for us.
J: Yeah. It was our No. 1 wine of the year last year.
A: I mean, they’re so good.
Z: That’s a good start to get on this list.
A: Yeah, they’re so good. Yeah. Joanna, what about you? What are you drinking?
J: Okay, so I have Lunar Hard Seltzer here.
J: Lunar is our Rising Drinks Brand of the Year, which isn’t a category we had last year in our first ever Next Wave Awards, but it was something that we thought we could create with Lunar in mind, honestly, because they’re just… Where do you put a hard seltzer on this list? But they’re doing such amazing things. The brand was launched in 2019 by Kevin Wong and Sean Ro, home brewers experimenting and wanting to create something that resonated with them as Asian Americans. Their hard seltzers are created with actual fruit from Asia. The one I have here is actually a collaboration with Jeju Noodle Bar in New York City. It’s mint omija, which is a five-flavor berry tea. I’ve never had this one before, actually, because it’s a special collaboration. But these two guys, they’re really young. I think what they’re doing, they saw this trend happening in hard seltzer and they decided to jump in and kind of make it their own and make it more representative of themselves and the Asian American community. The idea is that the flavors are meant to be Asian-influenced and to really celebrate Asian culture, and they’ve had a tremendous amount of success. You can now get these in Whole Foods, which is pretty cool. I think being a young entrepreneur, how amazing that would be.
A: So cool.
J: The hard seltzer is just really good. So we were really thrilled to recognize them on this list because I think what they’re doing is really cool. It does feel like they kicked off something else in the space, because I feel like now in the subsequent years we’ve been seeing a lot of other brands bringing out these flavors as they should.
A: So finally for me, I am drinking our Spirits Brand of the Year, and it is Fortaleza Tequila. If you also read the site often you know that Fortaleza not only performs very well on our tequila tastings, but we did a huge profile piece on it recently written by Tim McKirdy, just about the meteoric rise of the brand and how that happened. It’s a story about a family that is obsessed with quality, that is not obsessed with scale, that actually almost refuses to scale. They are really only all about doing things the old-school way and making the purest form of tequila that they can. They are a bartender darling. They are severely allocated in New York. It’s almost impossible to find a bottle of Fortaleza at this point. Everyone who works with the brand or is connected to the brand are just awesome people. Who they employ, what they embody is really incredible. If you want to understand what blanco tequila is all about, why people think that blanco is the purest expression of tequila, you should drink Fortaleza. You should have it and understand what people think of when they talk about a true tequila, tequila that doesn’t have additives, that hasn’t been manipulated, that’s not full of vanilla, that just tastes like this plant that so many people in Mexico feel blessed to have grown in this country, and that really is something that is truly unique to Mexico. That’s what Fortaleza is. And so it just felt like, yeah, I mean, this has to be the Spirits Brand this year.
J: Yeah, especially as we watch the category continue to rise, they are making their tequila without compromise.
A: Without compromise.
J: Without compromise, despite what’s happening. We felt that was really honorable and we wanted to recognize that.
A: So as I said, check out the rest of the list. It’s live on VinePair.com. Let us know what you think. Hit us up at email@example.com. I’m going to go nurse my hangover, and I will talk to you guys on Monday.
J: Have a great weekend.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.